By Carmen and Tripp Eldridge, Farm Directors at Arden
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Every year throughout this month, organizations across the United States take the time to spread knowledge and fight stigmas surrounding mental health. While Tripp and I aren’t medical experts, we do know that nature has a wealth of benefits for physical, mental, and emotional wellness. So, today, we wanted to highlight the topic of ecotherapy.
Ecotherapy is based on the idea that people are connected to and impacted by the environment. Research has shown the advantages of connecting with nature. A study published in the National Library of Medicine has shown that ecotherapy is effective in lifting depression, relieving stress and anxiety, improving sleep, and lessening post-traumatic stress, among a host of other positive effects.
Whether you enjoy taking long walks on local trails or planting gardens in your backyard, ecotherapy might be the perfect way to get outside and make progress on your mental health journey. If you’re ready to give it a try, here are three common ecotherapy activities that could be a good place to start:
Nature meditation is exactly what it sounds like – meditating in a natural setting. You can practice it in a local park or near a lake. The goal is to focus on the sounds, smells, or sights of your surroundings while purging all other thoughts from your mind.
If you live in an urban area where the sounds of nature get drowned out by city noise, you can substitute them with life-like sounds in your headphones, courtesy of the Internet. For example, naturesounds.tv can be a helpful resource. This free site offers a variety of nature sounds across different platforms.
Nature meditation can be practiced alone or in groups. Just remember that it should calm, ground and connect you not only with the world around you, but with your inner sense of self as well.
If you enjoy growing fresh fruits and vegetables, are interested in starting your own backyard garden, or even looking at joining a community plot, horticulture therapy might be for you.
Horticulture therapy is the use of plants and plant-based activities to facilitate human rehabilitation and healing. This practice has roots that trace back to the 19th century. But even current research from the University of Florida has shown the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of gardens. Today, horticulture therapy is often used in physical rehabilitation and has proven to be effective at improving people’s memory, cognitive abilities, coordination, balance, and endurance.
The sensation of feeling the soil in your hands, the fresh smells exuded by plants, and the time spent outside in the fresh air – all can have a therapeutic effect on a person’s nervous system and provide relief from the stress of everyday life.
Many ecotherapy practices are supposed to get you out of the house and moving in the fresh air. If you already work out at home or at a gym, try moving your workout outside. Physical exercise in any outdoor setting can be incredibly therapeutic and foster increased awareness of the world around you. Taking a run to reduce stress, going on a peaceful walk to ease anxiety, cycling around your block for some fresh air, or even doing yoga in the park to focus on your breathing can cultivate and strengthen your connection with the environment and give you a healthy dose of fresh air and “happy hormones,” such as endorphins and serotonin. This is also a great way to explore your surroundings and visit some beautiful sites in your area.
Ecopsychology is still an emerging field with new research conducted every day. But many therapists have already begun incorporating ecotherapy principles and techniques into their treatment practices. The best part is that most of the ecotherapy practices are available at little or no cost. So, whether you’re looking for new ways to cope with stress or just want to connect with nature, this Mental Health Awareness Month is the time to start!